Sometimes I think it’s a wonder I don’t have a drinking problem. I come from a long paternal line of pretty impressive tipplers, which sounds odd since you don’t hear a lot about excessive Semitic imbibing. Over-eating? Sure. But tying on too many? Not as much. And yet my great-great grandfather was an alcoholic rabbi. The idea of more than one glass of kosher wine is pretty sickening to me, so I hope his drink of choice came from some of the grains or potatoes grown near Tykocin, his Polish village. Then I had a great-grandfather who on a night out on the town with his fellow Russian cavalrymen ate such a hot pepper that he tried cooling off his burning tongue by downing a giant glass of vodka. The booze only made things worse so he ran outside into the wintry streets of Kiev and shoved a handful of snow into his mouth. I think that’s a fantastic visual. Much later in life he lost a leg and when he moved in with my grandparents when my dad was a kid, he often spotted his grandfather's fake leg propped against the chair in his bedroom, next to the glass that held his teeth on the bedside table. When I was a child I had assumed he was one-legged while still in Russia, although I suppose that would have negatively impacted his effectiveness as a horse riding soldier. Regardless I liked the idea of his hopping out into the streets with his mouth on fire. (I’m awful, I know). But my grandfather was the only one of these men I knew and he was a legendary drinker. Not sloppy and slurry mind you, just low-grade and pretty consistent. He was of the “I’ll have what he’s having” school. Meaning he drank whatever everyone else was drinking, just a lot more of it. Thankfully he was a happy drunk because when he was sober, he was pretty unpleasant.
And then there is my father. My earliest memories are of him coming home from work and pouring himself a glass of Cutty Sark out of one of the sparkly crystal decanters that stood on the bar. The golden liquid was so pretty I begged for a taste. That tiny drop was such a shock to my palate that I couldn’t imagine why he seemed to enjoy his drink so much. He’s still a scotch man. And gin. And vodka. In addition my parents always had (and have) wine with dinner and if there’s company, a little post-prandial cognac. It's not like they lived The Days of Wine and Roses. They didn’t overindulge with any scary regularity or anything. It’s just that alcohol was served and enjoyed and no one made a big deal over it.
I was given sips of my father’s beer whenever I asked, even when I was five years old. My grandmother thought it was hilarious. What kid actually likes the taste? But I did. I also liked the taste I took from the tall-boy can of Colt 45 my 7 year-old classmate Patsy packed for our second grade picnic—it was just like Dr. Pepper! But all of this was just child’s play. Drinking never held a big mystique for me in general and because I showed no signs of an addictive personality and certainly wasn’t a risk-taker, there was no cause for parental concern. When I was a teenager the drinking age was 18 in New York and getting served when you were just a year or two shy of that birthday wasn’t an issue. I remember favoring tooth rotting concoctions I could never stomach today involving liqueurs and fruits, but I didn’t have a go-to drink that seemed “grown-up.” That put me in an incredibly uncomfortable position when I was set up with a visiting fancy 19 year-old English guy staying at the home of one of my parents’ friends. We were to meet at the friend’s apartment for a drink before going to dinner. When I got there, decked out in my favorite olive and gold Fiorucci pants (majorly pleated, tapered at the ankles and tucked into cuffed olive boots) he stood by the mirrored bar and asked me in his posh accent what I’d like to drink. I became paralyzed, although I had the presence of mind not to blurt out, "a pina colada" which was what I really wanted, and all I could think to say was, “white wine.” “Really?” he said. “Before dinner?” I’m still not sure why he found my request worthy of any sort of a comment, but the result was that I felt like the 16 year-old I actually was at the time and not the woman of the world I was pretending to be in the company of such “sophistication. “ What a jerk.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I got to college that I learned how many kids had been raised in really restrictive environments. They were thrilled by and unprepared for their new-found drinking freedom and spent much of their Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the bathroom. Meanwhile, my parents brought me a big bottle of Beefeater on Parents’ Weekend. So funny, I’m not even sure if I ever finished it. But what I did finish were many red Solo cups of draught beer. I think four years of those stupid plastic cups, and the keg party din of guys playing Whales Tales against the soundtrack of The English Beat, Depeche Mode and Prince, ultimately left a bad brewskie taste in my mouth for a long time.
I didn’t realize what a shame my non-beer drinking ways were until recently. And for this revelation I have to thank Margot, she of the same “Princess and the Pea” sensitivity to certain cuisines, restaurant atmospheres and table placement as me. Over a dinner of moules frites she introduced me to La Chouffe, an unfiltered blonde Belgian ale. It is fantastic! I have been denying myself a refreshing, delicious, slightly fruity, hoppy and a tiny bit spicy treat for way too long. Actually, over the years I have stared curiously at the micro-brewed specialty beers my brother favors or the draught Hoegaarden Rich often orders. But it is the black and tan that I’ve been most intrigued by. It appears at once so dark and mysterious and also like a frothy chocolate egg cream. Maybe that’s why it seems so appealing to me? It looks like a soda fountain sweet treat!
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up this weekend I didn’t have to look far for a fitting recipe to mark the occasion. These decadent brownies from last months' Bon Appetit are made with the black of the black and tan, Guinness Stout, and they are so good! The brownie itself is insanely fudgy and rich and because most of the alcohol is cooked out, the result is just a wonderful infusion of malty earthiness. The stout also gilds the four leaf clover just enough, adding a boozy kick to the gooey dark chocolate icing. Are they for adults only? That’s up to you. I’m sure my mother would have given me one if I’d asked and I probably still would have turned out fine-ish. Even with a drunk rabbi for a great-great-grandfather. And with that let’s raise a brownie and toast, “L’chaim Erin go braugh!”
Fudgy Stout O'Brownies
From Bon Appétit February 2012
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1 cup Guinness stout
16 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped and divided
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9x2" metal baking pan with foil, leaving a 2" overhang and set aside. Bring stout to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 12 minutes. Let cool. Divide the stout into two 1/4 cup portions.
Melt 12 ounces of the chocolate and 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of just simmering water stirring occasionally until smooth.
Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Gradually whisk in the melted chocolate mixture, then 1/4 cup of the reduced stout.
Fold in flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly.
Bake brownies until surface begins to crack and a tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 35–40 minutes--do not over-bake. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes.
Melt remaining 4 ounces chocolate and butter in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining 1/4 cup reduced stout and 1/4 teaspoon salt until well blended.
Pour warm glaze over brownies. If the icing is thick, use small off-set spatula to spread evenly over surface of brownies. Let stand at room temperature until glaze is set, at least 40 minutes.
Using foil overhang, lift brownie from pan and cut into 16 squares. Remove brownies from foil and if they seem to be sticking to the foil, an offset spatula will take care of removing them cleanly.
Yield: 16 brownies